"Why do you keep doing this?", I keep asking.
Another press conference has been held, another statement
reprimanding Government has been issued, another "massive
demonstration" protesting against the Government's "failure to
extricate India from the clutches of the WTO" has been announced.
The person I have in mind are activists -- like others, they have
made a bit of a mark denouncing WTO, the patents Bill, the decision
on insurance etc. The difference is that in the public eye the
organizations for which they speak, issue statements, announce
morchas and the rest, are part of the same parivar as the
"But we must occupy the opposition-space," they
say. "The economy is already in great difficulties. It is going to
be in an even greater mess soon. If we don't claim this space, the
Strange -- at least at first sight. Here, after
years of striving and waiting, their parivar has got to form the
Government, and they are worried, not about what their actions will
do to the prospects of their group continuing to occupy the
"Government space", but about its losing the "opposition-space"!
People become accustomed to exile! Having spent almost one's entire
working life in opposition, that is the only role one knows:
hectoring, scolding -- and leaving the doing to others. The group is
not comfortable when, suddenly, it has to account for everything
that goes wrong. Its members, therefore, gravitate to a
behaviour-pattern which will get them back to the role to which they
had got accustomed.
Not just exile, failure is as likely as anything
else to become a habit! Indeed, in India failure is proof of
fidelity! That a person has not succeeded, is taken as proof of his
having stuck to principles! If Chance and circumstance propel his
group to success, he must work for the second-best: ensure that the
group does not say there long!
Definitions somersault. Words acquire the contrary
meaning. To you and me, that the activist would have destroyed the
Government, would seem a colossal failure. But in his reckoning, he
would have succeeded in destroying it! But it is not all principle.
There is prudence also. "No Government can do much about India's
problems, so intractable are they by now," the reasoning goes, "In
any case, not a Government constituted as this one is. What we have
to ensure is that it goes out on an issue of its choice, at a time
of its choice." That no issue can salvage a group which has shown
incapacity to govern -- governance being the basic back of
Government - does not seem to register on these theoreticians.
Their sights encompass more than mere Governments.
"You are worried about the 'opposition-space", I say. "What you are
doing only ensure that the Government loses its credibility
further." "The Government's credibility is gone in any case," they
reason, "What we have to ensure is that the credibility of the other
organizations does not go with it."
Strange again: who will put faith in organizations
that break the very instrument by which they could have realised the
goals they profess? But the logic of the "failure-proves-fidelity"
school is the exact opposite. In their calculus, that they are
prepared to bring down their own Government proves to the activists
that they are more committed to those goals than to "mere office"!
That the people could conclude something else -- that the activists
are just bull-headed -- doesn't cross their minds. Governments come
and go, they declare loftily, we are working for a
Sometimes I feel it is just plain naivete -- they
do not really believe that the injury they are inflicting on their
own Government will be fatal: and you can't reason with them -- the
last thing that evidence can convince us of is what we do not want
to believe. At other times, it seems the old ailment itself, the
belief so common in our public life, the belief in one's cleverness
-- in this case, that one can steer through by talking from both
sides of one's mouth: the belief that as Government is continuing to
press ahead with liberalization, the industrialists will think well
of it; and that as the activists are continuing to agitate against
globalization, those who are liable to get hurt by the opening up
will rush to the larger family... "You mean we should just dump the
massive support our programme has gathered among the people?," an
enthusiast demanded recently. I felt that he had been carried away
by the space that his pronouncements had been getting in the
newspapers. The moments the Government is ousted, the news-value of
what persons like him are saying will be next to zero. That seems
obvious to me, but I get nowhere with the enthusiasts.
And for a special reason: there is a distortion in
vision peculiar to the activist. To go on toiling away in the face
of so many odds, the activist has to believe that, though they may
not be visible, vast numbers are behind what he is doing. At times
it is a necessary delusion -- but for such self-hypnosis one would
give up. The trouble is that it is not always warranted, it takes a
diviner as subtle as Gandhi to know when, in spite of being absent,
the people are in secret sympathy, and when they are absent because
they really don't care.
There is also the snare of consistency. "If we
dilute our programme now that we are the ruling party," the
reasoning goes, "people will say that the issue we raised was just
an artifice, that we are not sincere about it." In part, the impulse
is genuine faith: activists are like other believers -- to them
heresy is worse than kufr. In part, it is a compound: of an
excessive concern with image, on the one hand -- "What will people
say of me?"; the anxiety here is not heresy, per se, but that others
should not think of one as having lapsed -- and, on the other, an
exaggerated view of one's importance -- the feeling that others have
little to do except keep looking at what one is doing.
"It is all a conspiracy. Their economies are
collapsing. They need our markets. We are committed to national
strength, our Government exploded the atomic bomb. They do not want
any Government to survive which is for a strong, independent India.
International forces and their domestic agents have joined
The activist is more prone to rush to this sort of
a belief than others -- so convinced is he of his cause anyone who
does not agree with him is in his eyes obviously doing so for some
ulterior reason. But this conviction -- that others are conspiring
against them -- is not confined to activists. It seems to be common
to Governments. "Foreign hand behind the conspiracy," Mrs Gandhi
used to say. "A conspiracy of forces out to destabilize the
country," Rajiv used to say. "Conspiracy of forces opposed to social
justice," the Janata Dal leaders used to say. "A lie, a right-wing
conspiracy," said the Clintons. "A conspiracy of communal forces,"
say Laloo and Mulayam Singh. "A conspiracy of the forces that are
opposed to India becoming strong," say the leaders.... Such a
comforting conviction -- that what is happening to one is the result
of the conspiracies of others.
It enables one to continue in one's habits: as the
present situation in which we find ourselves is the result of the
conspiracies of others, everything will be all right once the others
stop conspiring; we don't have to change our ways.
It exempts one from responsibility, from seeing
that we have been brought to the present pass by something we have
done or failed to do. Indeed, it exalts one. As one is, by
definition, good, one is the object of conspiracies of the evil. If
the conspiracies succeed, the case is proved: for in addition to
being good, one is proven to be innocence itself.
Comforting, and self-reinforcing. The more we
believe that others are conspiring against us, the narrower the
circle in which we move. The narrower our circle, the greater will
be proportion among those we encounter of persons who will bring us
evidence of conspiracies. The more we shout, "Conspiracy,
conspiracy," the less the world believes our charge. The less it
believes us, the more convinced we get that the conspirators have
succeeded in brainwashing and co-opting the rest.
But the more we succeed in convincing others that
our adversary is a lowly, evil conspirator, the less he has to lose
by conspiring. Nor does anyone seem to see that the crimes to which
people have got accustomed, the crimes they expect politicians to
routinely commit are so grave that to charge someone with conspiring
is to place a flea on a dung heap. Moreover, the more the leadership
proclaims that the current plight is the result of the conspiracies
of others, the more it weakens itself even within the organization:
as that is the case, there is that much less of a ground for taking
steps against the ones whose negligence is responsible for bringing
the group to that pass. I would, therefore, suggest that before
putting their faith in conspiracy theories, leaders should ask a few
To what extent can the current pass be explained by
factors other than conspiracies of outsiders? Take for instance, the
current image of disarray: can this image not be entirely explained
by the doings of allies, of the Government's ministers, of
affiliated organizations? Once the doing of these are arrayed, is
there anything left which one has to put at the door of
Second, it is but the job of parties which are in
opposition to seek to replace the party in Government. Coordinating
moves with others, opening lines to allies, taking advantage of
one's blunders -- these are part of that job. Decrying them as
conspiracies carries little conviction. A good test for a party is:
if it were confident that the stratagem which the other is using
will succeed, would it not have used the stratagem? And, when it did
so, would it have regarded the charge of conspiracy as valid?
Third, every party has or has had control over some
Government or the other some Central, State or Municipal Government
or the other. Is there a single Government among the ones it has
controlled which has been sufficiently free from the conspiracies of
others that the leaders can point to it and say, "See, that is what
we are capable of doing?
Fourth, it should recall the reasons -- always so
many, always so detailed -- that it gave before an event -- say, an
election, a rally -- why that encounter will go massively in its
favour. And the reasons -- even more numerous, even more specific --
that it gives after the event to explain away its having gone the
other way. The greater the discrepancy between the first and second
sets, the more the result has to do with its own deeds, the less it
has to do with the conspiracies of others.
Fifth, to how many persons outside their circle are
the members of the group listening? When those outsiders talk of the
State in which its movement or group is, do they ascribe it to
conspiracies of others, or to what that group and its affiliates are
Finally, is that circle itself getting narrower?
Are more and more persons, specially those whom the group had
flaunted till yesterday, joining the ranks of the ones it says are
conspiring against it? Recall the Bolsheviks: all comrades one day,
Trotsky the incomparable commander, Bukharin the theoretician; the
next day, Trotsky the archconspirator, Bukharin the saboteur. Recall
the Chinese communists: Liu Shao-chi, a founder, his essays and
tracts compulsory reading one day, a closet-enemy the next; Lin
Piao, the designated successor one day, the diabolic enemy the
next... Soon, anyone who does not believe that there is a conspiracy
afoot, by the very fact of believing that charge proves that he has
crossed over to the enemy, that he has become a part of the
If after answering these questions, there is still
ground for believing in a conspiracy, may be there is one. But in
that case, surely, the operational conclusion is the exact opposite
of the one on which individuals and organizations seem to proceed
today. Precisely because there is a conspiracy to, say, bring down
your Government, shouldn't you be behaving even more responsibly?
Should you be doing things that help the conspirators who do not
want to see, say, a strong